A federal Judge has indicated that he is likely to compel Google to comply with the Justice Department’s subpoena for search engine data. In a 90-minute hearing held yesterday in California, the Honorable James Ware told Justice Department lawyers that it is likely to receive some of the information requested. A written decision is expected later this week.
By way of backstory, Google had been requested by the U.S. Department of Justice to respond to a subpoena for the production of its stored data regarding search results. The government argued that it needs to defend the constitutionality of the COPA (Childrens Online Protection Act) that was partially struck down as unconstitutional in 2003. The claim is that the search engine data is needed in order to evaluate the impact of some blocking tools on search engine results. Interestingly, only Google is fighting the subpoena, Yahoo! and MSN have already complied.
Judge Ware indicated that the Justice Department has again scaled down its request. The original subpoena called for “[a]ll URL’s that are available to be located on your companys’ search engine as of July 31, 2005.” After meeting with the lead attorney for the government, the subpoena was narrowed to a “multi-stage random sample of one million URLS” from Google’s database. This was to assure that several random samples of URL’s were submitted. The above article indicates that the government now wants a random sampling of 50,000 Web site addresses indexed by Google and the text of 5,000 random search requests.
I look forward to reading Judge Ware’s opinion when it is released. Hopefully he is able to strike a balance between the Government’s request and the right to privacy on the Internet. The concern, of course, is that this will set the precedent for more subpoenas that will be more invasive of user privacy than this one.